Dragon Con Survival Guide

The 501st Legion takes part in the traffic-stopping Dragon Con parade. See more Dragon Con parade pictures.
©2006 HowStuffWorks

Every summer, residents of Atlanta and geeks from all over the world get ready for Dragon Con, a meeting of sci-fi and fantasy fans. The convention, which takes place over Labor Day weekend, attracts a crowd. Attendance in 2011 was around 46,000 people, from fans to dealers to guests [source: Dragon Con]. The convention spans five hotels -- the Hyatt Regency Atlanta, the Marriott Marquis, the Atlanta Hilton, the Sheraton Atlanta and the Westin Peachtree Plaza -- and its Saturday morning parade stops traffic downtown.

This may not sound like much compared to Comic-Con, which boasts more than 140,000 attendees, or CES, which has to categorize its vendor listings so people can find their way around. But Dragon Con has its own sense of overwhelming, nerdy bustle and its own hazards. Here are some suggestions for making it through the weekend without mishaps.


First, get through registration as early as possible. If you live in the Atlanta area, or if you're arriving on Thursday, stop by registration and pick up your badge on Thursday, the earlier the better. The convention won't have officially started yet, but you'll be able to get your badge, program book and pocket program, and stay around for some of the concerts and meetups that have sprung up on Thursday night.

If you can't make it to registration on Thursday, try to get there early on your day of arrival. While arriving earlier won't necessarily mean less time spent in line -- queuing up early has become a Dragon Con tradition -- it should mean less time spent in line while the convention is actually going on. Dragon Con switched to a barcode system for 2011 to make the registration process smoother, and the Daily Dragon (the official convention newsletter) offers other tips for making registration go faster.

If you've never attended Dragon Con, Thursday night is also a good time to get acquainted with where everything is, before the rest of the convention crowd arrives. The Hyatt's floor plan can be a little confusing, so take a good look at the map and explore the hotel on your own. For convention veterans, this is a good time to check out anything that may have changed from previous years. You'll also find some unofficial parties and meet-ups going on: the Daily Dragon has a list.

Regardless of when you get to the convention, your badge is essential. You'll need to wear your badge the entire time you're at the convention. If you lose your badge, you'll have to buy a new one. It's a good idea to bring or buy a lanyard that will hold your badge securely. You can also keep the clip closed by wrapping it with a small rubber band. Also, make sure your badge's laminated cover is completely sealed so that the inside of the badge doesn't slip out.

The pocket program will tell you what's going on at the convention. To do things the old-fashioned way, pick up a copy at registration and sit down with a pen or a highlighter and mark everything you want to attend on the schedule grid. But here's a caveat: Because of last-minute changes and updates, the pocket program is usually out out of date before the convention even begins. If you've got a smartphone, your best bet for making sure your schedule is up-to-date is one of the official apps. There's one for Android, one for iOS devices, and one for everything else.

The convention organizes its programming into tracks so it's easier to find the panels and events that interest you. You may want to take a look at what's going on in all of the tracks so you don't miss something that may have been fun or interesting. If you're interested in celebrity events, make sure to take a careful look at everything that's happening in the hotel ballrooms. These larger rooms are usually the venues for the most prominent guest panels.

Next, we'll look at some ideas for making it through the convention itself.


Dragon Con Tips for Everyone

Elf boots...made for walking?

Since Dragon Con takes place during summer in the South, the weather tends to be hot and humid, and sometimes the area gets drenched by the remnants of a hurricane or tropical storm. Crowded conditions and long lines make it seem even hotter and stickier. As in all large crowds, germs can spread quickly. Here are some ideas for staying cool and healthy during the convention and for getting from place to place.

Consider taking MARTA, Atlanta's public transportation system. If you live in Atlanta, or if you're staying at a hotel that's not within walking distance of the convention, taking MARTA may be less expensive and more convenient than trying to park downtown. The Peachtree Center MARTA station adjoins the convention hotels. If you do decide to drive and park, arrive early, since hotel lots fill quickly. If you park elsewhere, make sure to follow all posted instructions about payments and when you will need to move your car or pay for another day.


Make a survival kit. This can be small enough to fit into a bag or backpack and include basic necessities that you may need during the day, such as:

  • A small bottle of hand sanitizer
  • Adhesive bandages
  • A small tube or packets of antibiotic ointment
  • Moleskin (if you're prone to blisters)
  • Small bottles or packages of over-the-counter medicines like pain reliever, allergy medicine and decongestant
  • A small bottle of baby powder or other talcum powder, especially if you will be carrying a bag or wearing clothing that will rub against your skin
  • A small bottle of sunscreen
  • Deodorant (Atlanta is hot during the summer, and the convention is very crowded)

Wear comfortable shoes. Even if you plan to stick to events in only one of the convention's three hotels, you'll still be spending a lot of time on your feet.

Bring a sweater if you tend to get cold. It will probably be hot outside, but all of the convention hotels are air-conditioned. You may find that you get chilled while sitting in cool meeting rooms or after coming in from outside.

Prepare to queue. Many of the biggest events at Dragon Con are also in the most demand. If you hope to see a panel featuring actors from TV shows like "Warehouse 13" or personalities like Felicia Day or Stan Lee, you may be in for a long wait. Sometimes, dark horse events wind up drawing unexpectedly long lines, like the 2005 Buffy Prom, the 2006 Serenity Shindig and the 2007 Colonial Fleet ball. These lines can sometimes stretch outside of the building. In addition, a typical convention security practice involves clearing a room completely before the next event begins. In other words, unlike at Comic-Con, you can't guarantee a good seat for a panel by sitting through the prior one. There's no Dragon Con equivalent of camping out in Hall H all day.

Keep moving when you get off of an escalator. This may sound trite, but stopping leads to traffic jams. Traffic jams lead to annoyed security guards and frustrated fans.

Prepare to wait for an elevator, particularly in the Hyatt. Although some convention-goers follow the "go up to go down" rule, it's often easier just to take the stairs. Also, leave the elevator to make room for disabled attendees.

Be cautious after dark, particularly if you're bringing children to the convention. There are lots of nighttime parties at the hotel, and there's often a lot of alcohol served at the parties and in the hotel bars. In addition, the costumes on display after dark have a tendency to become increasingly revealing.

Wearing a costume to Dragon Con can have its own pitfalls. We'll look at costumer-specific Dragon Con tips next.


Survival Tips for Costumers

Cardboard costumes: not breathable or flexible

Costumes are a big deal at Dragon Con. Some costumers have worked for a year or more on what they plan to wear. Organizations like the 501st Legion even have precise standards for members' costumes. Good costumes can get a lot of attention at the convention, but they can also create unexpected headaches for the people wearing them. Here's how to avoid some of the more common issues.

Carry an emergency sewing kit with you. This should include:


  • A needle and thread
  • Safety pins
  • Spare buttons, preferably matching the buttons on your costume
  • A bottle of Fray Check or other seam sealer
  • A stain-remover pen, unless the fabric you've used in your costume won't tolerate it

Do what you can to make your shoes comfortable. Comfy shoes are a natural part of some costumes. When this isn't the case, use cushioned insoles to add a little extra padding under your feet, and break your shoes in thoroughly before the convention.

Remember the practical side to wearing a costume. At some point during the day, you'll need to eat, drink and visit the restroom. If your costume is inflexible -- or inaccessible -- this may be a challenge. You'll also need to be able to get up and down stairs and escalators. Dress trains, dragging hems and fringe can catch in escalators. If your costume has exceptionally long sleeves -- like the dresses from the "Lord of the Rings" films -- you may want to pin them out of your way while eating or taking pictures.

Full-body costumes require careful planning.

Stay cool. Large, heavy costumes can make a big impression at Dragon Con. However, many of these costumes become very hot, very quickly. Here's how to lower your chance of overheating:

  • Use pockets inside your costume to hold cold packs or ice packs.
  • If your costume covers your head, make sure it's well ventilated -- otherwise, all of the heat escaping from your head will stay trapped inside your costume with you.
  • Drink lots of water.
  • Have a noncostumed or less-costumed friend stay with you. Competing groups like Making Mischief usually have several costumed handlers who get water, food and ice packs and to make sure the other group members stay safe. This is especially important if your costume blocks your field of vision in any way.

Bring Febreeze or another odor remover if you plan to wear the same costume more than once. Atlanta is hot, and it's virtually guaranteed that you'll sweat in your costume. If you're going to wear a costume for more than one day, either wash it out or spray it down, and let it air out overnight.

Be creative when it comes to bags. Many costumers are tempted to leave their bags behind in order to make their costumes more accurate. This makes it harder to keep track of everything from your wallet to your pocket program. Another option is to find a bag that complements your costume. For example, military bags like Alice packs or olive drab messenger bags might look good with Battlestar Galactica or Stargate uniform costumes. A silver pitcher can be a suitable bag for a Galadriel costume.

Don't overpack. While it may be tempting to bring all of your costumes, you probably won't have time to change into many of them. If you have lots of costumes, a good rule of thumb is to bring no more than one for each day, one for each evening and one for each competition you plan to attend.

To learn more about costumes, Dragon Con and related topics, see the links on the next page.


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